The TOBY Autism Therapy App (formerly TOBY Playpad) is the result of ongoing research conducted at Deakin University, Geelong, and Curtin University, Perth. This research creates knowledge in the form of technical papers, and ultimately feeds back into the development of the TOBY Autism Therapy App.

Svetha Venkatesh, Stewart Greenhill, Dinh Phung, Thi Duong, Brett Adams
2013 CHI Conference on Human Factors In Computing Systems Proceedings.

ABSTRACT

We describe TOBY Playpad, an early intervention program for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). TOBY teaches the teacher – the parent – during the crucial period following diagnosis, which often coincides with no access to formal therapy. We reflect on TOBY’s evolution from tabletop aid for flashcards to an iPad app covering a syllabus of 326 activities across 51 skills known to be deficient for ASD children, such imitation, joint attention and language. The design challenges unique to TOBY are the need to adapt to marked differences in each child’s skills and rate of development (a trait of ASD) and teach parents unfamiliar concepts core to behavioural therapy, such as reinforcement, prompting, and fading. We report on three trials that successively decrease oversight and increase parental autonomy, and demonstrate clear evidence of learning. TOBY’s uniquely intertwined Natural Environment Tasks are found to be effective for children and popular with parents.

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D. Moore, S. Venkatesh,  A. Anderson, S. Greenhill, D. Phung, T. Duong, D. Cairns, W. Marshall, A. Whitehouse, accepted for publication in the Journal Developmental Neurorehabilitation. 

Abstract:

Purpose: To investigate use patterns and learning outcomes associated with the use of TOBY Playpad, an early intervention iPad application.

Methods: Participants were 33 families with a child with an ASD aged 16 years or less, and with a diagnosis of Autism or Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, and no secondary diagnoses. Families were provided with TOBY and asked to use it for four to six weeks, without further prompting or coaching. Dependent variables included participant use patterns and initial indicators of child progress.

Results: Twenty-three participants engaged extensively with TOBY, being exposed to at least 100 complete learn units (CLUs) and completing between 17% and 100% of the curriculum.

Conclusions: TOBY may make a useful contribution to early intervention programming for children with ASD delivering high rates of appropriate learning opportunities. Further research evaluating the efficacy of TOBY in relation to independent indicators of functioning is warranted.

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S. Venkatesh, S. Greenhill, D. Phung, B. Adams, T. Duong, Pervasive multimedia for autism intervention, Pervasive and Mobile Computing, Available online 15 July 2012, ISSN 1574-1192, 10.1016/j.pmcj.2012.06.010. 

Abstract:

There is a growing gap between the number of children with autism requiring early intervention and available therapy. We present a portable platform for pervasive delivery of early intervention therapy using multi-touch interfaces and principled ways to deliver stimuli of increasing complexity and adapt to a child’s performance. Our implementation weaves Natural Environment Tasks with iPad tasks, facilitating a learning platform that integrates early intervention in the child’s daily life. The system’s construction of stimulus complexity relative to task is evaluated by therapists, together with field trials for evaluating both the integrity of the instructional design and goal of stimulus presentation and adjustment relative to performance for learning tasks. We show positive results across all our stakeholders–children, parents and therapists. Our results have implications for other early learning fields that require principled ways to construct lessons across skills and adjust stimuli relative to performance.

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S. Venkatesh, S. Greenhill, D. Phung, B. Adams, Proceedings of the 19th ACM international conference on Multimedia, pp. 769–770, 2011. 

Abstract:

We demonstrate an open multimedia-based system for delivering early intervention therapy for autism. Using flexible multi-touch interfaces together with principled ways to access rich content and tasks, we show how a syllabus can be translated into stimulus sets for early intervention. Media stimuli are able to be presented agnostic to language and media modality due to a semantic network of concepts and relations that are fundamental to language and cognitive development, which enable stimulus complexity to be adjusted to child performance. Being open, the system is able to assemble enough media stimuli to avoid children over-learning, and is able to be customised to a specific child which aids with engagement. Computer-based delivery enables automation of session logging and reporting, a fundamental and time-consuming part of therapy.

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S. Venkatesh, D. Phung, S. Greenhill, T. Duong, and B. Adams, PRaDA Technical Report, 2012. 

Abstract:

We describe TOBY Playpad, an early intervention program for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). TOBY teaches the teacher and the parent during the crucial period following diagnosis, which often coincides with no access to formal therapy. We reflect on the development of TOBY from its inception as a table-top aid to the onerous preparation and recording of flash-card activities to its culmination as an iPad application that delivers an adaptive syllabus of 326 activ- ities across 51 key skills known to be deficient for ASD children, such as imitation, joint attention and language. TOBY’s development was driven by autism and machine learning experts, and is unique in the way it integrates on-iPad activities with Natural Environment Tasks (NET). The design challenges unique to TOBY are the need to adapt to marked differences in each child’s skills and rate of development (a trait of ASD) and teach parents unfamiliar concepts core to behavioural therapy, such as reinforcement, prompting, and fading. We report on three trials that successively decrease oversight and increase parental autonomy, and demonstrate clear evidence of learning. TOBY’s uniquely intertwined NET tasks are found to be effective for children and popular with parents.

Download